Active Hope – Neither Prep nor Green-washed

I conceive that the land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living, and countless numbers are still unborn”. ~ Nigerian Chief

There are many ways to respond to the shocking and challenging realities we are faced with.

There are people who honestly ignore what is going on and what’s coming. They are either too busy or too focused on other things to pay enough attention. I used to be one of them, so I can’t blame them.

There are others who react as if these facts are an attack to them as individuals. Therefore, they react in a defensive way. They may not know that they are probably too scared to acknowledge they are, so they attack the facts or the people behind who bring them the bad news.

Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something”. ~Carl Sagan

It is an interesting journey this one of discovering how the world really functions and how things are going so wrong. For many, is too painful and scary to accept and the next step may never happen.

When I started this journey myself, one of the things I did was start exploring what other people were doing: their actions could be a guide for me, or I could join forces to support each other or whatever was to be done. My first questions after being awake and aware about these challenges was: what should I do? And, how do I prepare myself and my family for this?

In my exploration, I discovered two distinguishable types of people: the preps and the green washed.

Let me explain:

  • The preps (the first I discovered) are mainly concentrated in USA. Their attitude seems to respond to fear and is fired by consumerism. These are the ones whose first reaction is to start “preparing” for the different collapses: depending on their income, abilities and opportunities, some choose to move to an “off the grid” homestead and start with the whole collage of solar panels, water harvesting and growing food. Many stockpile food, water and seeds and a few concentrate in re-learn useful skills such as seed-saving, sewing, cooking from scratch and preserving food, among others. There is a sub-group among these preps who also stockpile ammunition and weapons (apparently, to protect their families against the hordes of starving people who may come after their food and water)
  • The green-washed: these are the ones who feel guilty and try to change their consumption so it is more “sustainable” and “green”. These are the ones who become vegetarian and eat only organic or only local, the ones who change their vehicles to hybrid or electric and start paying astronomical amounts of money for organic cotton and fair trade clothes and stuff.

What’s wrong with the above pictures?

The preps seem too short-sighted: no matter how much food or water you stockpile, if there is a food crisis, it won’t be enough. Their attitude is also selfish: what about the other people around, the animals and plants? They also rely too much on consumerism: the idea is that if I buy enough prep “stuff” somewhat you will be “safe” and collapse won’t touch you or your family…

This approach has also a flaw: it leaves out all those who don’t have the time, money or skills to prepare for anything which are, more or less, most of the world population.

The green-washed are also driven by consumerism and the idea that you can buy your forgiveness. If you just switch from one unsustainable consumer lifestyle to a green one, you have paid your deeds and can now be forgiven and resume with life as usual. This approach is not only selfish: it is also immature, unaccountable and irresponsible. It leaves billions of people out, as most “green” choices are unaffordable and worst: it makes a poor, if any, difference on the problem: most “green” choices are actually terribly unsustainable or plain lies that corporations tell us to create more naive and ignorant consumers.

Both approaches have some good points: we surely need to prepare for what’s coming and we need to switch to more sustainable, green options. But the response is not just that: we also need to learn, become informed, help those who can’t prepare or switch and…consume less!

Thankfully, there are other approaches: I particularly like the one who combines preparation and green switching with social responsibility and accountability. The one who works through “active hope”:

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
~ Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

I am currently re-reading a book I read a few months ago: it is called “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

The book starts by acknowledging that we are living three stories:

  1. The “business as usual” story: all things will continue as they are now or even better. This is the story many choose to believe in, the story of continuous growth and free market regulating all with its magical wand. The story of technology and human ingenuity fixing any problem we may face as specie. The story of unaccountability and irresponsibility: we do because we want and we can. The story of short-sighted people who steal from future generations, from the environment and other species and from their own future.
  2. The story of the “great unravelling”: this is the story that tells that all is lost and there is nothing we can do about it. We will have a collapse of the economy and we won’t recover from it anymore, we will have an environmental collapse that will cause the massive destruction of ecosystems and the suffering of many, and so on. These is the story doomers tell us, this is the story of survival of the fittest and preps.
  3. The story of the “great turning”: this is the story told by those who know how the first story may end but refuse to let the second story to have the last word: this is the story of those who fight for what is just and fair. The story of those who actively continue building lifeboats even when they may be also scared and in pain. The story of those who want and bring on change and start by changing themselves.

It is interesting, because the book talks about how “active hope” opposes to “passive hope”.

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in

~ Leonard Cohen, Selected Poems, 1956-1968

We tend to exercise the last one: we “hope” things will turn out well, but if our hopes are small, based on what we see or believe, we choose not to act or “give up”. Let’s say that I feel discouraged about how slow things are progressing towards a more sustainable future and think we won’t make it. I do hope for a sustainable future, but many things I observe tell me this will never happen. I may then choose to prepare or may give up altogether: it is too daunting, too big a cause for me to do anything worth.

The second one, “active hope” is doing something about it even when we may think the cause is hopeless. Continuing with the example above, I may look for creative ways to become engaged and recruit people who cares as I do. I may start learning skills and prepare for the things that may happen, switch to more sustainable consumption and choose to buy less and create more.

They also provide some “steps” for choosing active hope:

  1. Take a clear view of reality
  2. Identify what we hope for: direction to move to or values we would like to see expressed and
  3. Take the steps to move towards that direction

Action is usually the best way to have any impact in life, and t starts with your own spiritual and behavioural journey, then embraces your closed ones and spreads out to your community.

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”
~ Jim Morrison

To summarize, fear and guilt don’t work. If you want to fight a monster, the first step is to acknowledge that it exists. Then recruit others, make them aware of that monster and thing together in how do you imagine the future without that monster in it.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

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